By this point every winter, Northwesterners go dreary on cue. “Isn’t the weather awful! Isn’t it relentless!” goes the refrain. “Will it ever get less gray, dark, wet, chilly?” Awful and relentless is right, I hear myself muttering. Will you ever get less boring?
Ouch—that sounded so much worse than I meant it. The truth is, I’m the biggest weather whiner I know. But the thing about being boring is that it’s diagnosable only from without. “Nobody knows they’re boring,” reasoned Maria Matthiessen, who recently appeared on the NPR radio show This American Life to talk about the topics she believes are guaranteed to bore their listeners in polite conversation. Your health. Your period. The particulars of your sleep, your dreams, your diet. The route you took. “Nobody cares,” Matthiessen declared. “Before you open your mouth, first ask yourself: Is this interesting to anybody?”
Ponder that long enough and you won’t open your mouth for a month. Ponder a little more, however, and certain topics will announce themselves as guaranteed dinner-party suicide. Say what you will about This American Life, about Matthiessen’s list, about Her Majesty Matthiessen herself. If you live in Seattle, you’ll be wise to think twice before holding forth on:
Anything weather (see above). Also includes quoting Cliff Mass like holy writ; bitching all winter about the chill and then spending Seattle’s annual 15-minute July heat wave narrating your discomfort; going on about your love of rain as if it rendered you uniquely fascinating.
Your regimen. Think CrossFit disciples, people who felt so much better once they gave up gluten, those who just had to go vegan after watching Food, Inc., anyone who’s partaken of a cleanse—you know these people; they’re a Northwest native species. (The cleanse people are particularly unfiltered, liable to recount elimination histories like wisdom tales from the Bhagavad Gita.) Poor waiters labor right in the crosshairs of these oversharers, getting increasing earfuls every year not only about what diners will not eat—which of course they need to know—but why. Shut up.
How bad the Mariners are. This is not news. The M’s have been bad for a decade. Everything to say about it has already been said, six or seven hundred times. There is simply no way to be interesting on this topic.
How bad the traffic is. Matthiessen’s version was “route talk,” that notorious LA affliction in which drivers relive their journey from point A to point B. Seattle’s version is nearly as riveting. “North on I-5 out of downtown last Friday afternoon…a friggin’ parking lot!” someone says, incredulity dripping from his voice, while every conscious person in earshot is wondering if perhaps he was born yesterday.
A traffic jam on I-5 during rush hour is not only not a transfixing anecdote, it’s not even mildly shocking. Of course people like me who grew up here are particularly challenged by this, recalling that golden era so seemingly recent when freeway traffic jams happened predictably but twice a day; when traveling east to west on city streets wasn’t yet a triumph of cunning and valor. Seattle’s a metropolis now. Traffic might be unfortunate, a travesty, a political issue—but it’s no longer a surprise, and it’s certainly not conversation.
What you had to do to get your child into the Seattle public school of your choice. So you lobbied the school district to restore boundary lines, did you? Attended every meeting of Community and Parents for Public Schools? Toured seven elementaries, had your child privately tested for the APP program, moved your family to a tiny bungalow equidistant from Bryant Elementary, Eckstein Middle School, and Roosevelt High?
Strangely enough this is not gripping to me!
What is consumingly fascinating to you isn’t even in the same zip code as interesting to anybody else, and you would know this if you were paying attention to your audience’s body language: the glassy eyes, the glances at the watch, the snoring. For upwards of 10 years I consistently missed every one of these signals in favor of sedating everyone I knew with the daily minutiae of my quest.
I am so sorry.
Deep geekery. Indeed, it’s the mark of an overeducated populace to be ridiculously informed about arcane stuff: not just cult pop culture, like the names of all 12 actors who have played the Doctor on Doctor Who or what Sturgeon’s Revelation refers to, but deep techno geekery, like how to migrate a meterpreter to install a keylogger remotely.
Please, geek, don’t waste your admirable expertise on me. Go knock yourself out with your fellow geeks, with whom you undoubtedly already work in Redmond or South Lake Union. Because if I’ve learned anything in my own long and storied experience of numbing people into a coma, it’s this: Boredom is in the eye of the beholder. Which means that for every 10 people who run when they see me coming, there’s sure to be one who really does want to hear what I ate today on the VB6 diet.